A Luxembourgish Break

Here is a small duchy that packs a punch. In every way you can think of. I shall get there eventually. Make way for some rambling now, if you please.

A flight on an early morning from Heathrow landed us in Luxembourg’s only international airport. Without mis-adventures what are we? A public bus, for which we had to pay nothing (because on Saturdays they charge nada), took us past very modern and tall buildings into the heart of it when we suddenly realised that we had left our destination somewhere behind. They do not announce bus stops (they just want you to be observant individuals, darn it). So all you have got to do is keep a careful count of bus stops on the small brochure that the information desk at the airport hands you. Of course, we reached somewhere else. From where we sat in another bus with a driver who looked like he was not having a good day and reached our stop in a matter of a few minutes.

Yes, Luxembourg City is so small that you can conveniently walk around it without breaking a sweat. If you have two days in the city, I would strongly recommend getting a feel of the city in a day (it is that small and you will have seen everything, I promise) and the very next day head north to the Ardennes or south to the Moselle Valley. We did not get to do either of the two because we had to head home the next evening. So we just spent time mooching around town.

Now getting back to that statement about how and why the small capital packs a punch.

Firstly, the only remaining Grand Duchy in the world, ruled by Grand Duke Henri, does fairy-tale with flourish. Straddling two deep gorges, Luxembourg City is filled with pale pink chateau-style houses with turrets and towers, viaducts, sand-hued bastions peeping through, willows poetically drooping over emerald green rivers, spires of churches shooting for the heavens and stories of counts and dukes fighting for control of the tiny duchy. The father of this small land would be Siegfried, a count in the Ardennes – that rugged terrain which spans Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France and known for the fierce battles fought in it during the two world wars.

There is a legend that the count was lured to Luxembourg by a mermaid called Melusina whose domain was the waters of the river Alzette. Psst: You will see her soon. No, no, I am not trying to spook ya. Melusina truly sits by the river even today, very pink and thoughtful.

Melusina or not, Siegfried must have fallen in love with the rocky promontory known in those days (10th century) as Lucilinburhuc. That is if he was romantic. But if he was a shrewd ruler, he would have looked at the strategic position of it and thought of it as an excellent proposition for building a defensive fort. In any case, he paid for it with lands he owned in a nearby commune in Luxembourg to the Abbey of Saint-Maximin in Trier. Then having acquired it, Siegfried proceeded to castle up. Around which the town came up.

Instead of paying up a hefty 18 euros per person for a tour of it, we did a self-guided walk. The walk around the promontory that is called the Bock, the gorges and the fortifications is just too charming. You cannot take your eyes off the view from every part of it. The viaduct with rows of cypresses standing like tall, spare soldiers alongside, the startling sandy hues of the sandstone cliffs that glow so golden in the sun, the roads winding down from the plateau to the lower part of town, the glassiness of the Alzette and then the blue palette of the sky in the backdrop. It all comes together like a dream.

Secondly, this is a city that thwacks you solid when you are hungry or thirsty. Wander into any restaurant and Luxembourg City will make you see stars. A cup of coffee in a cafe will set you back by 4.50 euros. Nothing is for the hoi polloi here. In fact, I suspect there is nobody who would qualify as a commoner in Luxembourg City. The average salary monthly there is 3,189 euros. So dear friend, if you have felt poor in Luxembourg, you are not alone.

I had a premonition at the airport. A blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee at a stall in the airport cost us 11 euros. The kind of price I would expect to pay at a fancy old-world cafe in Europe. Boy, were we glad that we were there just for a night.

Thirdly, it has one of the best chocolateries in Europe. That is reason enough to make me go wild. With chocolate. Who wants anything else in this world? Wait. Don’t answer that. Just humour me.

Ah, that view from Chemin de la Corniche which is considered to be Europe’s finest balcony. It is a cobbled promenade from where you can have a wonderful insight into why the city had captured the attention of Holy Roman Emperors to the houses of Burgundy and the Habsburgs. Why, everyone wanted a bite of it, including the Prussians, and the French and Spanish kings.
On the left, you see the Bock. From which the city gets its epithet, Gibraltar of the North.
Every angle of it is the subject of a few clicks.
His imagination ran riot here. Above him are loop-holes in the Bock cliffs for canons that once were stationed there.
There you go — Melusina. She gave Siegfried seven children but he refused to give her space. The story goes that she used to lock herself up on weekends, and egged on by his friends, the count gave in to peeping through the key hole of her locked door. “O ye of little faith, Siegfried,” she might have said, but what she definitely did was vanish. He never saw her again. 
The city stands at the crossroads of two important Roman routes that ran through it. Straight ahead in the quarter known as the Fishmarket (at the junction of the Roman roads) stands the oldest church (it goes back to the 1oth century) in the city, St. Michael’s.
Church of St. John, home to one of the few hundred Black Madonnas in the world. In the courtyard, stands the Neumünster Abbey. From time to time, it has served more the function of a prison and barracks than as an abbey. During WWII, the Nazis used it to imprison those who protested their occupation of the city.
Luxembourgers in the old days would enter or leave the city, always watched by soldiers on duty at the gates. The gates would be shut once the sun set, not because they feared attacks, but because they were paranoid about desertion of their own troops. Apparently, it was a common feature for a large part of the troops to leave town in the cover of the night.
Pont du Château, an 18th century two-story road bridge. Before 1735 when it was built by Austrians, there used to be a wooden drawbridge that connected the Bock with the upper parts of Luxembourg City. But if you want to make the connection through the Pont du Château, it gives you four options. You can walk over it of course. But if that seems too staid, you can pop into a spiral staircase that is located under the main arch, or walk the passage under those small arches. Better still, disappear underground into a tunnel and emerge in the upper city.
We met barely a handful of people as we made our way down steep, winding paths to this church. But in the 18th century, this very place must have been swarming with people. For one, the citizens of Luxembourg were bound by “a sad privilege” as they had stated in a petition then. They considered themselves to be “living in a fortress, a privilege that is inseparable from the lodging of soldiers”. Both groups, soldiers and citizens, were thoroughly miserable, living in cramped conditions and constantly jostling for space.
The husband and very own guide armed with a map takes a breather as we descend into the valley of the Alzette.
Chemin de la Corniche in our backdrop.


Views from Grund, a quarter below the city on the banks of the Alzette.
Roads that lead to Grund.
The houses of Grund, the quarter with just about 750-odd residents.
In these alleys are the European headquarters of Amazon.
Houses on the Grund.
And then, there are these houses too in Grund, on the Alzette.
From Grund, you look up and spot Old Town.

Old Town

Let’s wander into its alleys.
The Grand Ducal Palace
Right opposite the palace will you see this piece of treasure.
Inside a 15th century house, you will find just a wonderland of chocolate, European style.
Those cakes are luscious enough to make you hungry even if you are not.
Now this should back my statement up. Can you imagine the creamy goodness of this red velvet cake on your tongue? Are you feeling immensely greedy? Want to chase me with a club? I am done here.
Bob Marley, Kafka and my man watch me as I unleash a vast reservoir of appetite.
Mint tea. No I did not have that. I had something more sinful in store for me.
It started with this stick, a big block of dark chocolate at one end of it along with a shot of cointreau in that plastic vial.
That is how you bring a short holiday to a smashing end. With adequate amounts of hot chocolate, cliffs, spires, ditzy roads winding all over the place. And an odd yellow crane in the backdrop. Because life is a tale full of anti-climaxes.

Thus we wind down to the end of my short but sweet time in Luxembourg. Till next time, toodles.








Bohemian Break – II

In my bright red coat I stand in the Old Town square in Prague on the first morning of our year-end holiday. It was stinging that cold, but the savoury aroma of sausages and the sweet smell of hot wine was in the air. The world seemed to have come together in that square to natter away.

Time should get stuck at your command on holidays.

Have you noticed how after that first day of any break, every other day just flies by?  It started on a note of Christmas markets at the historic square in Old Town where the Tyn Cathedral (in the backdrop) with its spires aspires to reach the skies. The Astronomical Clock Tower of Prague announces itself too with its tall, tall tower and a  clock that has kept time for 600 years. There is a legend about the clock and I cannot help but be fascinated by lores. Master Hanuš built the clock in 1410. The city councillors were delighted but suspicious. What if Hanuš replicated the clock anywhere else in Europe? They blinded him on a dark, dark night. But then I also think of the Mughal emperors in India who are known to have chopped off hands of architects and workers who built them their glorious tombs and structures.

Maybe the legend is not that hard to believe after all.

When the clock comes alive every hour, 12 wooden apostles show up in its windows. Flanking the Astronomical Dial, if you squint a bit, you can spot on the right a skeleton ringing a bell (Death holding its hourglass, but according to a tour guide, a supermodel 😉 ) and a Turk next to it. On the left hand side is a man with a mirror portraying Vanity. Adjoining him is the man with a bag of money and a stick in his hand, signifying miserliness.  They all move when the clock chimes. But the other four figures below, of an angel, chronicler, astronomer and a philosopher, on either side of the Calendar Dial, remain still. At the very end, a golden cockerel on top of the tower quivers its wings and crows, after which the bell rings. 
Decorative facades off the square
In the backdrop is St. Nicholas Church (you might say, another St. Nicholas? Ref: The stunning Lesser Town church in The Bohemia Break – I). This is a Baroque church in Old Town. My pick of it was a sculpture of an archbishop (possibly) holding a staff and peering into the distance with a bewildered look his face right on one corner of the facade.
The 14th-century Church of Our Lady before Týn
Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV 
At the end of the road is one of the early 13 gates into Old Town. Today the 11th-century Gothic tower divides Old Town from New Town. The Powder Tower is named after gunpowder that was stored in it in the 17th century.
The Art Nouveau Municipal House 
High ceilings, bay windows, mirrors and crystal chandeliers bring in touches of opulence to the cafe of the Municipal House.


On the bank of the Vltava, sits this muse on the Rudolfinum, home of the Czech Philharmonic. It is a paean to 19th-century Czech society when businessmen and financial institutions took it upon themselves to build the grand Rudolfinum that would house an art gallery, a conservatoire and be the home of music.

Walking tours are my preferred way to get to know the inner workings of a city. In Prague an outfit called Sandemans does a neat job. We were taken on a walk in Old Town by Terry, a tour guide whose husband as it turns out is from Northampton (six degrees of separation is not a myth). For three hours, she entertained us — without making us snore. But there are exceptions to any rule. In this case, it was a quartet of Indians. They took a half a dozen selfies with the group, took more selfies, and when we all stopped for a break in an eatery, they looked around furtively to check if Terry was around and then proceeded to slink away midway. They had had their selfies, thank you.

Into Talmudic Legends & the Jewish Quarter

I was introduced to the story of Golem one night as we slipped into bed after a long day of walking in the city. We were putting up at the InterContinental Prague, a heartbeat away from the Jewish quarter. Every night, I would find a little bedtime story waiting on the pillow — making me feel like a child with her nightly ritual.

Way before Hitler came into the picture, anti-semitism in Europe was rampant. During the 16th century when Prague was ruled by Emperor Rudolph II, a rabbi decided that the Jews needed protection in the form of a massive creature made out of clay called Golem. He did not look anything like Gollum (ref: Lord of the Rings) if you are confusing the two. His creator was Rabbi Löw who breathed life into Golem by combining the elements of fire, water, air and earth. As it happens the best conceived plans in life go awry. Golem wreaked havoc upon the city and had to be destroyed by the rabbi. There are whispers that Golem was hidden in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue.

The Jewish community used to live in the quarter which came up between the river Vltava and the Old Town since the 13th century. It served as a ghetto from the beginning, though from time to time, the walls of the ghetto were razed down by various administrations. Its startling feature is the Old Jewish Cemetery supposed to be the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe. There are up to 12 layers of bodies stacked over the other, thousands of gravestones vying for space inside the cemetery which is home to the dead from the 15th-18th centuries.

The incongruous addition to the quarter is Paris Street or Pařížská. Wandering beneath buildings that were pulled down and rebuilt in the 20th century blending together many architectural styles from the Neo-Baroque to the Neo-Renaissance, it is easy to lose yourself in the grandeur of it. The windows in each building are just massive displays of haute couture. Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, Gucci. The roll-call of designer boutiques are here.

The quarter did have residences yet it was completely in contrast to the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. The Hungarian Jewish quarter was hip, bustling with bars and eateries. Its Czech counterpart was as quiet and sombre. A mood of contemplation steals over you as you walk through it. It is difficult not to tear up listening to stories of the Holocaust anywhere. It is no different an experience in Prague. Plus there is the hair-raising fact that Hitler wanted to keep Prague’s Jewish Quarter intact as a ‘Museum of an Extinct Race’.

The Bohemian gilded look of Restaurant U Stare Synagogy (Restaurant at the Synagogue) on Paris Street
Jewish Town Hall
The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. It dates back to the year 1270 and there is a story attached to it during the rule of the Reich. A Nazi agent who entered its attic (where the Golem is supposed to have been hidden) never made it back from the synagogue. After which, the Gestapo gave it a wide berth.
Life goes trotting by on Paris Street


The Church of the Holy Spirit borders the Jewish Quarter. In the 16th century, during the reign of Ferdinand I, Jews had to attend Catholic services at the church.
Paris Street
Spanish Synagogue built in the 19th century over an earlier synagogue in the Moorish Revival style. Inspired by the Al-Andalus style of architecture.
Many Jews from the city lost their lives at the Terezin Concentration Camp.


Points of Pride

It is difficult not to come across these famous Czech personalities when you are walking the streets of Prague. You know them.

There is Franz Kafka. The man who penned works in German such as The Castle and The Metamorphosis. I understood little of him when I read him, a long time ago that is. His morbid thoughts were a disquieting read for my young brain. The man who craved solitude ‘not like a hermit’ but ‘like a dead man’ for his creativity, was born to a German-speaking Jewish middle-class family in the Jewish quarter of Prague.

Here you see Kafka next to the Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter. Kafka wrote of a young man riding on another man’s shoulders through the streets of Prague in a short story. 
Cafe Kafka is situated in the house into which the writer was born in 1883 and where he lived with his family for two more years before shifting to a house on Wenceslas Square.
The corner building on the left hand side of this photograph is Kafka’s birthplace.

I do not have photographs of Alphonse Mucha. But I did buy beautiful postcards that depict the Art Nouveau style of art work by this Czech artist who was born in a Moravian town in 1860. Mucha’s art work is what you see when you see most Art Nouveau pieces. Beautiful, dreamy women decked up in Neoclassical robes, surrounded by lots and lots of flowers on a pale pastel palette. Mucha lived in Prague in his later years and dedicated his time to decorating the Theatre of Fine Arts in the city and putting up murals at the Municipal House.

The third personality is one of my favourite writers and probably yours too if you have read him. Rainer Maria Rilke. The Bohemian-Austrian poet was born in Prague. There must be something about the air of the city you might be inclined to think, because just like Kafka, whose father beat him up often and considered him a failure because of his creative bent of mind, Rilke had a bad childhood. Rilke’s mother dressed him up as a girl probably in an effort to console herself for the loss of a daughter who had died before Rilke was born. Later in life, despite where his talent lay, Rilke was forced to join a military academy. A few lines from Rilke that make your heart ache with the beauty that lies in them.

“Break off my arms, I’ll take hold of you
with my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I’ll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.”


Christmas the Czech Way

Klobása (pork sausages) and conversations in the Old Town Square
I had this sweet treat first in Zakopane, Poland, and then in Budapest. In Prague, it is known as trdelnik. But its original name is kurtsoskalacs and it hails from Transylvania. 
Spit-roasted pork
Grilled cheese. I had already tried a Polish cousin of this in Zakopane and loved it. I was delighted to spot this in Prague.
To offset the saltiness of the cheese, they serve it with a sweet-tangy plum jam.
Handmade crochet the traditional Czech way
Chicken kebab and sausage noons
Come with me, he says. Till what we saw did make us quite sad.
A donkey, a sheep, a goat and a pony tied up inside a very small enclosure in the middle of a Christmas market. The donkey, for example, started every time he turned any which way. 

The Vintage Way of Going Around

These cars are apparently vintage cars produced in the Czech Republic during the 1920s. You can take expensive tours around the city in these. But they are not bank breaking either.




Foodie Tales

U Svobodnych Zednaru carries a Freemason symbol but let that not mislead you. They simply like the masonic touch to the decor.
The food at U Svobodnych Zednaru is excellent value for money and here you can see the look of glee on my husband’s face at the prospect of goulash. He had loved tucking into this classic meat stew in Austria and Hungary. I love charting the way food too travels. Goulash might be deemed Hungarian in origin, but it arrived in Hungary only with Turkish soldiers in the 16th century.
Home of Pilsner
Lokal is a chain of Pilsner pubs that serves up excellent fare amidst traditional Czech decor from the 70s. It is popular with locals, so it runs to full capacity on most days.
Chocolate cheesecake. Unputdownable proposition. Also, gets over real quick.
A Parisian style cafe from the early 1900s with clients of the likes of Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein (when he was a professor at the University of Prague).
In the old days, you could make calls to anyone in the city using this receiver and the codes.
The beautiful interiors of Cafe Louvre that was shut in 1948 for a while by a communist coup. 
The local Czech beer on tap at Cafe Louvre is worth its hoppy value.


James Dean restaurant. Only because I am a James Dean lover.
Enter Hotel Paris. The 1904 building is Art Nouveau with ceramic mosaics, an elegant staircase with  ornate wrought iron railing, brass motifs, etched glass mirrors and golden chandeliers.
Cafe de Paris
Reduta Jazz Club. Prague’s oldest jazz club was started by a bassist in the 1950s. The club became a symbol of the Velvet Revolution at the end of the ’80s. It hosted an impromptu saxophone performance by Bill Clinton in the ’90s.
The Bakeshop in Prague
Rugelach, a traditional Jewish pastry, stuffed with nuts and chocolate, at The Bakeshop.
Cranberry and orange brownie at The Bakeshop. Heaven in a small square.



The places I have talked about are all inexpensive and yet they serve up sumptuous food. If you are in Prague, do have a look in. You might come out with a wide smile and a sigh of content.





In Bohemia

Nuns hobbled down the winding road below the monastery as the sun set over the frosted fields of Petřín Hill. Beyond the gnarled barks and skeletal branches of trees lay the spired vista of Prague, the December dusk brightened up by the city’s red roofs and turquoise church domes. A serene moment away from the madding crowds of Charles Bridge which spans Vltava River in the historic capital of Bohemia. We indulged that pause because how could we let such a moment pass by unnoticed.

Then as I was taking a few photos I felt a nudge at my legs. I ignored it. Another insistent nudge. I looked down. Next to my feet lay a bright red ball and a black hound pup staring at the ball with the kind of love I reserve for a cupcake on a peckish day. His name was Ralph. And yes, please could I toss the ball for his six-month old lovable self? His old master interjected: “The ball is covered in mud. Don’t feel you have to.” Mud be darned, I gave in to my young nudger, and off went Ralph streaking down the slope like a bullet. The ball beamed at us from where it had rolled down to but Ralph kept running around in circles. It took him more than 10 minutes to detect it. But he would have you know with a thump of his tail that he is a hound, yessir.

A steep climb from Prague Castle, Petřín Hill has the oldest Premonstratensian Monastery in Bohemia which in its baroque library of stucco and frescoed ceilings tucks away hundreds of thousands of books, manuscripts and religious texts. On this hill, you will also sight a tower which looks like a squat version of the Eiffel Tower. In the late 1880s, the world exhibition in Paris was visited by members of the Czech Tourist Club who decided that they wanted a share of the pie. They raised money and installed their own version of it, so you have Petřín Lookout Tower which at night is lit up as incandescently as the original it hoped to replicate.

Prague’s Eiffel does not do a bad job.

We were in the land of Boii which given its pronunciation could be accused of sexism. But there’s a simple explanation which is that the Boii was a Celtic tribe which is said to have given the region its name. A host of tribes occupied the land. Migration has been an eternal theme through the ages it seems. I took to the legend of Libuše, the princess of a Czech tribe. She married a humble ploughman and used to have visions of the future in her castle in Central Bohemia. Prague, Libuše foretold, would turn out to be ‘a vast city, whose glory will touch the stars’. In the Middle Ages, her vision came true when a Czech Prince built Prague Castle in the late 9th century. Since then it has been the seat of the Czech rulers. In modern times it serves as the office of the Czech president.

The first time we lay eyes upon the castle — as we drove in a cab to the hotel from the airport — it was through a veil of mist. We might have been in an older time, the spires of the castle looming above us with an otherworldly persona. First impressions last.

Adi at the tennis courts in Strahov. I wonder if monks play tennis, in robes.
IMG_20170103_185632_930 copy.jpg
Petřín Lookout Tower
Steps that lead to Petřín Park from the tower
Grounds of Strahov
The castle from across the Vltava
Prague Castle, turrets and spires all in one frame
St. Vitus Cathedral dwarfs you just like Lincoln’s cathedral in England
Stained art inside the cathedral
The tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors lie inside the cathedral
Christmas stalls in the castle grounds
Golden Lane, a 15th century quarter with a row of tiny houses built into the fortifications of the castle, is said to have got its name from alchemists who lived there. But according to Terry, a walking tour guide, the name was arrived from the habit of soldiers peeing in it after long sessions of swigging beer. The lane did house the military barracks for some time. The famous resident of Golden Lane was Franz Kafka who worked in House no. 22 for a year.
Gothic magnificence of the cathedral
View from Castle Square at night
One of the best lookout points in the city — Castle Square
Sunset at Castle Square
The king and the jester with an Asian woman who is dressed as ?
Gates of Prague Castle
The kind of view one could get used to

Gold-Tipped Towers and Spires

For a view of the famous 100 spires of Prague, you have gotta climb. A Bohemian mathematician had made a count of 103 spires in the 19th century, and after, Prague came to be referred proudly to as the city of a hundred spires. The incentive of climbing these lookout towers (besides walking off all the gingerbread men, pastries and hot chocolate) is the sheer range of architectural styles your eyes shall be treated with. Spired Romanesque rotundas, Gothic cathedrals and Baroque places of worship give way to the 20th century Art Nouveau and Cubist schools of thought.

The Old Town Bridge Tower, now blackened and weathered with the years since it was built in the 1300s to protect Old Town from marauders from the north, has views across the Vltava. The Gothic tower has just about 138 stairs. Not much? 😉
From atop the 210-ft tall Old Town Bridge Tower
The many spires, rotundas and domes that emerge out of Prague Old Town
For a bird’s eye-view of of Prague’s Old Town, you enter the Klementinum and climb its Astronomical Tower. The large complex, above 2 hectares in area, was the handiwork of Jesuits who arrived in Bohemia in 1556. Again, like the rest of the city, it has an array of architectural styles to offer because the reconstruction of the former Dominican monastery, in which the Jesuits lived, took roughly 170 years. Don’t be too put off by the brusque air of the old lady who stands at the till and treats you like a slow child if you ask one too many questions. And, reach by 10am so that you can grab the first tour.
The Mirror Chapel inside the Klementinum. One of the rooms that is bound to make your jaw drop. Till, of course, you make your way up and enter the portals of the famed library which you have probably seen lit up in all its baroque gorgeousness. Muted gold seems to leap out at you apart from the thousands and thousands of tomes – there about 20,000 – is this fantastic library that was started by the Jesuits in the 1700s as part of the Jesuit University they had set up. But the thing is that it is extremely well preserved, so the library is almost dark and you have got to peer in to get all that gorgeousness. I do not have a photo to share with you all because photographs are strictly off the charts.
This was like a sneak peek into what lay ahead once we got to the top of the Astronomical Tower of the Klementinum.
Then you climb up the 172-odd stairs of the Astronomical Tower and get this view of Old Town. This was always a viewing platform since the 18th century when it was built but Jesuit scholars and their students carried out their astronomical and climate measurements in the tower.
Take a turn around the tower and you get a view of the castle in the distance and the white towers of Strahov too.


The spires of Strahov Monastery

Bridges of Bohemia

Starting the new year in fairy-tale mode means that you’ve got to battle the hordes on Charles Bridge. This Gothic marvel of a bridge gets its name from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, who had its construction started in the late 14th century.

“How is the bridge even standing?” observed my (very) irate husband. But stand it does – that bridge that has seen much more than tourists, caricature artists, buskers and sellers of miscellaneous stuff. It has witnessed terrible floods and execution too post a famous battle when leaders of an anti-Habsburg revolt were executed and their severed heads displayed upon the Old Town bridge tower. It was 1621 and it was a measure taken to make the Czechs think twice before revolting against the Holy Roman Emperor.


Charles Bridge leads the way to the castle quarter and Lesser Town from atop the Old Town Bridge Tower.
Adi took a break from jostling with the crowds with a fake smile
But what cannot stop you from gaping at Charles Bridge are the rows of 30 saints flanking you. They make you think that you are being watched and that there is a somebody watching over you. In this case, 30 somebodies. Towering above me here are the saints Norbert of Xanten (the one who started the Premonstratensian Order), Wenceslas (Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century till he was assassinated) and Sigismund (King of Burgundy).
That is John of Nepomuk. This unfortunate man was deemed a martyr because he was confessor of the Queen of Bohemia and refused to divulge the confessionals. On the orders of Wenceslas IV, King of the Romans & King of Bohemia, John of Nepomuk was drowned in the Vltava in 1393. Since then he has been declared to be a protector from floods and drowning. Though why, you would think. He could not protect himself from the waters.
What could their sins have been?
Charles Bridge
You see why the other bridges pale in comparison.
Svatopluk Čech Bridge, an Art Nouveau style bridge, from the window of our room at the InterContinental Prague.
Below Charles Bridge from where some boats take off on their cruises.


At night, the crowds melted away on Charles Bridge. The mist rolled in and I could imagine it as the perfect setting for a thriller.
A taciturn John Le Carre-esque spy walking by with his shoulder hunched, a single stream of blue smoke released from the cigarette in his hands…

Lesser Town

In Czech, the baroque quarter adjacent to the castle is Malá Strana. It may be deemed Lesser Town but nothing about it is lesser than the other parts of town. It is dominated by St. Nicholas Church, which when you enter it cows you down with its baroque splendour, and around the quarter you have these old, old burgher houses and quaint, cobbled lanes that branch off quietly while tempting you to go down them to escape the crowds.

Spires of St. Nicholas Church show up from every part of Lesser Town. The town existed even before the Baroque period. But fires razed it down and it was rebuilt in a Baroque style.
St. Nicholas Church. If you have one church you would like to pay an entrance for, it is this one. It was built in the 18th century by a father-son duo of the famous Dientzenhofer family of Bavarian architects.
The frescoes inside take the breath away. It is all about art that makes you feel the exalted power of a place of worship.
During the Communist Era, the State Security used the bell-tower of the church to keep an eye on things in town. But it is worth its while to spend time inside this church and soak in all the elements that make the Baroque style what it is. The interiors are ridden with Baroque drama, exuberance and grandeur.


More Baroque presence on the streets of Lesser Town
Church of St. Joseph at Republic Square. A Renaissance Capuchin church with an adjacent monastery. It grabs the attention with its simplicity and yet you can spot the two Baroque sandstone sculptures of St. Jude Thaddeus flanked by two angels.
Poetic touches
Lesser Town was the brain child of King Ottokar II of Bohemia in the 13th century. As a royal town, its residents had to be chosen by the king who decided to throw out the original residents and invited German merchants and craftspersons in.
In the latter half of the 14th century, Charles IV extended Lesser Town and built the Hunger Wall. As terrible as it sounds – the mind immediately leaps to think it was an evil thought process at work – its original name gives you an idea about why it was named thus. It was called Chlebová or ‘built for bread’. Even though it was built as a medieval defensive wall, it is said to have been a strategic ploy of the Holy Roman Emperor to feed the poor by giving them employment. The Hunger Wall was built at a time when there was a famine in the city.
Lesser Town Bridge Tower, just as you get off Charles Bridge.


The Church of St. Thomas is part of an Augustinian monastery. The 18th century church was built upon the foundations of an older Romanesque church, it is supposed.
All roads lead to St. Nicholas in Lesser Town.

Hunting Out Green Fairies

The bohemian drink in Bohemia. Could not get more apt, right? The art lies in sipping and not downing the favourite tipple of poets and writers to get drunk merely, connoisseurs will have you know.




Bohemian Marionettes

Because the Czech are known for their hand-carved puppets since the Middle Ages. I am fascinated by this art form because it takes your imagination places with an just inanimate, wooden object.




‘Stop Stop Little Gingerbread Man’

Remember the gingerbread man from the fairy tales? Well, I met them aplenty in Prague.

Christmas means that the air in Prague will be redolent with the fragrance of gingerbread. In the Middle Ages, there were gingerbread baking guilds in the Czech Republic. Gingerbread travelled all the way from ancient Greece and Egypt to Europe with crusaders who in the 11th century introduced spices into the kitchens of the European wealthy.

In the Lesser Town quarter of Prague is a Gingerbread Museum. While it is not actually a museum, you will lay your eyes on a massive variety of gingerbread girls, shoes, bags, warriors, kings apart from the customary gingerbread man who receives careful attention from a woman with a piping bag at the till. I wanted to buy one of each. But the overpriced tags pricked my conscience and that soothed the alarmed look away from my husband’s face.

In the old days, European recipes called for ground almonds, stale breadcrumbs, rosewater, molasses and ginger. I wonder if the recipe is still the same for these smiling men in the picture. The English are supposed to have tweaked the recipe for a lighter version in the 16th century. And guess what, the first gingerbread man came from Queen Elizabeth I. She had got them baked for visiting dignitaries.
At the Gingerbread Museum, where you can dip them in a chocolate fountain and bite off their cute little heads.
Reproductions of wooden molds that were used in medieval times to tell the story of the day. As you can see in this shot, they would depict kings, queens and religious figures.
Gingerbread houses and trees and all things merry
Gingerbread stalls and pop-up shops are a feature you will not want to miss during Christmas.
In the old days, lovers are supposed to have gifted their loved ones gingerbread men tied up with ribbons.

The wonderful sweet and spicy aromas will drive you into the arms of the gingerbread man of Prague. There is nothing more moreish than a cute little gingerbread man to tuck into on a December evening along with a cup of coffee. And on that sweet, spicy note, I shall leave you with the promise of a follow-up post on Prague’s charm.









The Little Corner Apartment, Budapest

In Budapest downtown, right in the heart of the action so to say, is a nifty studio accommodation deemed the Little Corner Apartment by its Hungarian owner, Bali. On a frightfully cold day when the sight of frosty fields and bare trees were a forewarning of what was to come our way – namely, hands that could not stray for a few seconds out of well-insulated gloves and feet that froze within the boots, however many layers of insulated socks you had on – we arrived on a quiet street just round the corner from the hip n’ happening Jewish quarter in Pest.

Now, Budapest is bisected by the river Danube into two cities. Buda is the uphill part of the city with its palace and wealthy residential quarters and Pest (the Hungarians pronounce it as Peshth) is the flat part but with a significantly upbeat vibe to it.

Passing by the ivy-laden facade of an antique shop and a couple of cafés, we were soon shivering outside the massive doors of a 100-year-old building. The owner of the apartment, Bali, took us in a fairly old-world elevator to what was going to be our home for the next four days. The doors opened in to an industrial chic space, done up thoughtfully by Bali and his wife, using eco-friendly materials.

Exposed bricks, distressed walls and cupboards were offset by a bright pop of colour in the shape of a red throw on the sofa-bed that stood at one corner of the apartment. My favourite touch along with the distressed look were exposed light bulbs hanging off roughly-looped wires. They made for an artless, and yet, effortlessly stylish look. It is one of my favourite design trends for the season. I hope it is not a fleeting one. Do you like the naked light bulb look as much?

A modest kitchen, loaded with an electric kettle (always makes my heart sing at the thought of getting my cuppa tea), basic cutlery and crockery along with a supply of tea and coffee, made our stay a happy one. The mini fridge had been stocked with a couple of bottles of beer and milk. A welcome note it was alright. We never say no to beer.

When I say thoughtful, I mean it. Beer apart, the apartment came with a small, pocket map that introduced us to the city with recommendations of what to see and where to eat. The way the locals do it, that is. In our wanderings around Pest, it was a useful thing to have on us. The best thing about the apartment is its location. We were located a few minutes’ walk from a major square in the city, Deák Ferenc tér (Deák Ferenc square) and from its famous assortment of ruin pubs in District VII.

The drive from the airport to downtown Budapest. You get the picture. Lots of hot, sweet mulled wine to get us by.
We put up in an apartment in this building which was about 100-odd years old.
The double bed in the studio apartment.
The adjoining relaxing couch with the red throw to brighten things up.
I always loved returning to the apartment and seeing this lit-up window prettily waiting for us, promising us a wonderful time of thawing our cold bodies inside the warm apartment.

After long days of walking all around the city, beat and cold, when we used to return to the apartment, I was the happiest person alive. The temperature button on the heater would be cranked up and we would sit with cups of tea to warm up and make plans. On the last day in Budapest, after an early morning of romping around town, we got back and spent almost an entire delicious noon in there (we were kindly enough allowed a very late check-out). Because, let us admit it, at some times you need a break from the cold and precious lazing time even if you are travelling.

You can book the apartment through Airbnb and give me a thumbs-up after a stay here 🙂


My Cosy Corner of the World

Every time my husband, Adi, and I come back home with our strolleys, open the door and lay our eyes on the pub signs hanging off the walls of our short entrance corridor, the heart sighs. Almost audibly. That wonderful feeling of letting go, ah. I throw myself on the sheepskin fur sitting on our couch and flop back with happiness. I look around and let the eyes wander for ‘the eye has to travel’ as fashion editor Diana Vreeland puts it.

There is much for the eye to take in, in our apartment. For our home decor is at the other spectrum of minimalism. Would I care for a fridge bare of all the magnets that stick on them right now along with a few quotes and to-do lists? Nah. I like the chaos on our walls and fridge. Warmth pervades the walls of our home through the very many metal tin signs we have accumulated on our various travels.

There is a woman from the rental agency who comes once in a few months to do a check on the apartment on behalf of the landlord, and every time she enters, she says with a note of awe, “I love the way you have done the space up”. But I can see that she struggles to take it all in at one go. This time she took a peek at our wall that is dedicated to travel. The wall in our bedroom has tin signs from places that we have been to. Yes, we put up magnets and tin signs from places that we have actually been to.

That small yellow tram takes me back to Lisbon as does the yellow bird atop a branch that I bagged in a small boutique there for a deal. I remember the hot day on which I walked through alleys in Lisbon before I laid my hands on these cutesy memoirs. The miniature house fronts from Copenhagen, Prague and Bruges take me back to moments of dithering in shops till Adi would roll his eyes and say ‘decide already’, the bunch of red chillies in ceramic sits smiling at me from the kitchen walls and reminds me of our summer jaunt in the Amalfi Coast.

Then there is the louche frame of a man in a hat lighting his smoke off the glowing tip of his woman’s cigarette – which we picked up in a flea market in Brussels on a very grey, cold weekend. The old wall art of silhouettes, a woman in a 16th-century gown sitting in her swing and a rakish figure of a man paying his address to her, travelled back home with us from a small town in Seattle.

Atop the book cupboard.a76ef047d8d24c03823acdf41c4ee7c8.jpg

Ceramic cod fish from Feira de Ladra, Lisbon.a76ef047d8d24c03823acdf41c4ee7c8.jpg
Cods came from Feira da Ladra in Lisbon
Copper pot from Derbyshire.a76ef047d8d24c03823acdf41c4ee7c8.jpg
A copper pot bought in Derbyshire in England from an old, eccentric man who warned us not to put it on the hob or brew tea in it. “You never know, in these times of recession, you might actually use it,” he cackled. Something about old English men with that sense of humour —  it has the tendency to run amok.
Ceramic lemon and pears from Amalfi and plastic strawberries from Seattle.a76ef047d8d24c03823acdf41c4ee7c8.jpg
Ceramic fruits from the Amalfi, Italy, and a bunch of strawberries that my niece brought for me from Seattle because we used to smell soaps together and drool over fake fruits.
Lisbon ceramic tray.a76ef047d8d24c03823acdf41c4ee7c8.jpg
Lisboa tray
The travel wall that always gives us a thrill. It all started with the St. Ives metal tin sign that we bought in Cornwall, UK, from an art studio in Tintagel.

Who cares about minimalism? Not me. Do you?

There are so many more. The apartment is heaving with these memories that we have made, and along with it, the reminder each time that there is nothing as soul-stirring as travel. D.H.Lawrence put it so, ‘When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.’